For written communication, the handset supports text and multimedia messaging and most POP3 IMPA4 e-mail accounts (like Yahoo and Gmail) through a Web-based interface. You also get video calling, though we weren't able to try it, and three games. Bubble Tap, for example, lets you pop virtual bubble wrap, and Spin the Bottle shows an onscreen bottle that you can spin with your finger.
As mentioned, the Puma Phone offers several apps that focus on sports and recreation. Onboard are a stopwatch, a countdown timer, a compass, an RSS feed for sites like BBC Sports, and a run and bike tracker that uses the handset's GPS capabilities. An "egg timer" is one of the most unusual features we've seen on a phone, but we like the hourglass interface. The camera flash also doubles as a bright flashlight if you hold down the shutter key.
The camera takes pictures in four resolutions, from 3.1 megapixels down to QVGA. Other features include a self-timer, three quality settings, four exposure modes, and four color effects. The flash will help brighten dim places, and you can switch to the front camera for self-portraits. The camcorder records clips with sound. Editing options are limited to just the four color effects, but you can record for as long as the available memory permits.
Photo quality is pretty decent for a 3-megapixel shooter. There was a bit of image noise and the edges of photos looked a little blurry, but colors were bright, and we had enough light even when indoors. All your shots are stored in a media gallery in which you can view them as a slideshow.
The music player comes with mostly standard features like shuffle, loop, and 3D sound. It was easy to load music on the phone via a USB cable or memory card, and you can also send media via Bluetooth, e-mail, or a multimedia message. Aspiring DJs can use the "record" scratch feature that let you play songs while swiping a virtual record. It's fun for about 5 minutes. The Puma Phone also has an FM radio, though you'll need to use the wired headset as an antenna.
The WAP 2.0 browser is nothing special, so we wouldn't recommend the Puma Phone for the always-online set. You will have to use mobile sites, and the experience just felt a little clunky. You can access the Puma World portal for more Web content.
We tested the tri-band (GSM 900/1800/1900; EDGE) Puma Phone using AT&T service. Keep in mind that since the Puma Phone lacks one of the GSM bands used in North America (850), you'll have to depend solely on the 1900 frequency when calling in the United States and Canada. As a result, your reception will vary according to you location and the carrier that you're using (the handset will work on T-Mobile as well). As a general rule, the 850 band is used only as a backup in urban areas (where 1900 is more prevalent), but it is the primary band in rural areas, especially for AT&T. If you stick mainly to the city you shouldn't have a problem, but coverage will vary as you travel outside populated areas.
That's why call quality was decent when we used the Puma Phone in San Francisco. Voices sounded slightly metallic at times, but on the whole our friends sounded natural. Volume could have been louder, though it was sufficient for most places. Only when we were calling from a crowded room was it difficult to hear. The signal also remained strong with only a slight hint of static.
Puma Phone call quality sample
Reports from the other end were mostly positive. Our friends could tell that we were using a cell phone, but the audio was clear and natural. They also mentioned a trace of static and said the volume was low. In fact, it does appear that the Puma Phone's microphone is a tad sensitive. Our callers could hear us when we held the phone close, but our friends said the volume level dropped significantly if we moved the phone even slightly away. It was the same story with automated calling systems: no serious issues as long as we called from a quiet room. The speakerphone is adequately clear, but it could be louder as well.
Data coverage also is subject to restrictions. Since it supports only the 3G bands used in Europe (HSDPA 900/2100), you will be stuck on EDGE at home. Five years ago, EDGE would have been fine, but it's pretty unbearable these days.
Unfortunately, it was cloudy and occasionally rainy during the two days we used to review the phone so we never made it outside to give it a natural charge. Unlike the, the Puma Phone's solar panels don't kick in under a desk lamp or interior lighting. Also, it barely registered a charge when we placed it in a sunny window.
To really test the solar panel, we took the Puma Phone on a weekend trip to Las Vegas. Naturally, abundant sun greeted us in the desert, including during an afternoon at the pool. When we started the test, the Puma Phone's battery level was at 48 percent. After about an hour and a couple phone calls, it climbed to about 57 percent. Granted, that's not a lot, but the solar panel does deliver a steady power source while the phone is in standby mode.
On that note, keep in mind that the solar panel is really meant for topping off the phone rather than delivering a full charge. As we said in our Blue Earth review, the panels don't work when the phone is completely dead, so you can't abandon the wall charger completely. Instead, use an electrical outlet for delivering your daily juice and use the sun for an extra zap when you're on the go. Lastly, remember that leaving a gadget in the hot sun is never a good idea.
In other battery quirks, the Puma Phone replaces the normal battery meter with words like "Full" (completely charged), "Happy (mostly charged), "Hungry" (no charge), and "Feeding" (charging) to describe the power level. You also can click through to a separate screen to see the number of messages sent, calling minutes used, and music played as powered by the sun.
The Puma Phone has a rated battery life of up to 5 hours talk time on 3G and 3.5 hours on EDGE. The promised standby time is 16.6 days, and music time should take you to 25 hours. Our tests showed a talk time of only 3 hours and 47 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Puma Phone has a digital SAR of 1.24 watts per kilogram.
You may call the phone gimmicky, but we think it succeeds since it pretends to be nothing else than what it really is. From the start, the Puma has sold the phone as a fun device that offers a unique and sporty user experience. And when you evaluate the handset on those claims alone, there is a lot to like.
It's true, however, that the Puma Phone is a study in contrasts. It's not long on features, but it offers enough quirky apps beyond the basics to keep you occupied. The small display can be frustrating at times, but a simple interface and an eye-catching design give it appeal. And finally, though the volume could be louder, audio clarity was good, and the solar panel should deliver extra juice. The unlocked Puma Phone isn't available with a carrier in the United States, but you can get from third-party retailers like Expansys.com for an affordable $129.